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Satellite Reconnaissance: Secret Eyes in Space

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When all the exposed film had been wound onto the reel, the nose cone return capsule was ejected at a predetermined time and location. As the capsule descended to Earth, a heat shield protected it and a radio beacon indicated its position.

C-119 recovering capsule
182 k jpeg
NARA#: 59, RG 263
At about 18,000 meters (60,000 feet), a parachute deployed and a recovery aircraft snagged the capsule in mid-air. If the aircraft missed, the capsule was designed to land in the ocean, float briefly, and then sink to prevent recovery by the Soviets.

Later versions of the Corona camera, such as the KH-4B stereo model displayed here, exposed twice as much film and had two return capsules for each mission.

A special Air Force unit based in Hawaii, the 6593rd Test Squadron retrieved the Corona capsules. The squadron flew modified C-119 and C-130 aircraft, trailing a "trapeze" bar with hooks to snag the capsule's parachute.


This capsule from Corona 1117, the 122nd and final mission, returned from orbit on May 25, 1972. Corona has since been replaced by more advanced reconnaissance satellites that remain classified.

Manufacturer: General Electric

Gift of the National Reconnaissance Office

Return capsule from Corona Mission 1117
136 k jpeg
SI#: 97-16261-12

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